Review: ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ Perfectly Balances Comedy and Drama

Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Jay Collura

09/11/22 00:57

Rating: ★★★★

At the start of “The Banshees of Inisherin”, the audience is introduced to Inisherin, an island off the coast of Ireland divided into corners for farming by cobblestone walls. For Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell), the repetitive cycle of working then going to the pub is enough, as his carefree attitude and welcoming demeanor immediately establish him. This cycle is interrupted, however, when Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson) announces that he will no longer speak to Pádraic, despite the fact that they have been best friends for years. This seemingly small decision to sever a relationship reverberates on the island, forcing both Pádraic and Colm to come to terms with abandonment and reevaluate who they really are.

The genius of “Banshees” comes from this comedic, inconsequential premise. By starting with something small, writer/director Martin McDonagh can comically examine the breakup, then extract the underlying raw feelings of sadness that come with drastic change. The balance between these two sides is amazing: the movie was funny throughout, but started to tone down the comedic moments in favor of powerful dramatic scenes when needed. The friendly, friendly Irish expressions and interactions that the film draws laughs from fade away as our characters turn bitter and mean – a contrast that speaks to the inevitability of this transition.

The determining factor for both comedy and drama is performance. Farrell does a great job portraying Pádraic’s cheerful demeanor at the start and the desperation his character feels by the end of the film. Every mannerism and expression conveys an adorably silly character, but full of hidden resentment that is exposed as the film progresses.

Gleeson bounces off those traits perfectly with his portrayal of Colm — the older nature of the character dismisses Pádraic’s naivety through pointed statements and brief conversations filled with disdain. It’s very clear that these characters were once friends, as their conversations have a cadence that involves a story-rich story, but the two actors’ spoken deliveries reveal that the content of those conversations is both all-new and abysmal.

While Gleeson and Farrell certainly get most of the story’s weight, Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan and the rest of the cast also do a great job. Kerry Condon plays Siobhan, Pádraic’s sister, and Barry Keoghan plays Dominic Kearney, the town’s misfit and troublemaker. Both characters reflect the loneliness the island instills in its inhabitants – Siobhan is isolated due to her high level of intelligence and Dominic is ridiculed for his lack of intelligence. These subplots are seamlessly integrated into the main story, both literally and thematically. Even though the script explores a handful of characters in depth, the pacing is superb, as no scene feels unnecessary.

The script is the main focus of the film – the handful of locations present make it feel almost like a stage play – but the cinema shown elsewhere is solid. The cinematography is well constructed and decidedly understated for the most part, and the score resonates with the sadness of the story through authentic instrumentation. There’s not much to complain about, though I wish the movie showcased Inisherin’s beauty even more than it did. Also, the emotions of the story are very well established and executed, although I felt I wasn’t as affected as I should have been. Either way, “The Banshees of Inisherin” is an incredibly well-presented film that deftly balances hilarity and tragedy, culminating in a wonderful meditation.